Posted on: May 9, 2011 8:05 pm

Black, Roenicke meet in tribute to Scioscia

MILWAUKEE -- Way back when Mike Scioscia was winning his first game as a manager, Bud Black and Ron Roenicke were at his side.

"I sent him a text, and told him, 'I still remember the first one,'" Black said Monday, a day after Scioscia's 1,000th career win.

Black was Scioscia's pitching coach for seven years, until he left to manage the Padres. Roenicke was an Angels coach for 11 years, until he left last winter to manage the Brewers.

Somehow, it seems appropriate that the day after his milestone win, two of his ex-coaches faced off as managers, with Black's Padres visiting Roenicke's Brewers Monday night.

There are three of them now, Black and Roenicke and Joe Maddon, a Scioscia coach for six years before he left for Tampa Bay.

Maddon has won a manager of the year award. Black won one last year.

And Scioscia is still winning games with the Angels.

"I knew [back then] that he was going to be a successful manager," Black said Monday.

Black and Maddon have met twice in interleague series, with the Padres winning two of three games each time. But, as Black pointed out, his record against Scioscia isn't nearly as good.

They met in one interleague series, in 2009. The Angels swept the series, outscoring the Padres, 26-7.

"When you work with someone, you know what they are . . . and you still can't stop him," Black said.

Posted on: May 8, 2011 8:27 pm

3 to watch: The perfect matchup edition

Twice last year, Roy Halladay pitched against Josh Johnson.

Their combined numbers in those two games: 32 innings, 16 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned run, 3 walks, 30 strikeouts and a 0.28 ERA.

And one perfect game.

One game ended 1-0, in Halladay's favor (that was the perfect game, and the one run was unearned). The other game ended 2-0, in Johnson's favor.

The second game, in which Halladay allowed one run on six hits in eight innings, is his only loss in 19 starts against National League East opponents in his year-plus with the Phillies. He's an incredible 18-1 with a 1.56 ERA in those 19 games.

Which brings us to Tuesday night, when Halladay and Johnson meet up for the first time this season.

It's far too early to call this a Cy Young showdown (and Jaime Garcia of the Cardinals, who is 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA and two shutouts, might be just as good an early candidate). And since this is just the second of six series between the Phillies and Marlins, there's every chance that Halladay and Johnson could meet up again.

That's fine. Anytime they meet, they're the featured game on 3 to watch. Anytime they meet, I'm paying attention, and I'm betting you will, too.

On to 3 to watch:

1. By this point in his Cy Young season, Zack Greinke was 6-0 with a 0.40 ERA. This year, because he played basketball and broke a rib, he's just now making his first home start, in Padres at Brewers, Monday night (8:10 ET) at Miller Park . Brewers fans are no doubt excited to see Greinke, but you have to wonder how much the Brewers' recent slide (eight losses in the last nine games) has hurt their enthusiasm.

2. Coming out of spring training, the Braves were the popular pick as the NL East team with a chance to take the division title away from the Phillies. But it's the Marlins who have spent most of the first five weeks of the season in second place, often just half a game behind the Phils. The Marlins split two games in Philadelphia last month (a third game was rained out), and they get their next chance at home this week. The highlight matchup, of course, is Halladay vs. Johnson, in Phillies at Marlins, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Sun Life Stadium.

3. If Halladay vs. Johnson might help decide the NL Cy Young race, then Michael Pineda vs. Zach Britton might have helped decide the American League rookie of the year race. Too bad that Pineda is facing Jake Arrieta (a fine young pitcher, but not a rookie) in Mariners at Orioles, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Camden Yards . Pineda, 4-2 with a 2.58 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings, is the early leader. Britton, 5-2 with a 2.93 ERA, faces the Mariners on Thursday night.

Posted on: April 22, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 7:09 pm

It's been a cold (and low-scoring) April

Stats can lie. STATS Inc. doesn't.

So what should we make of the latest offering from the Chicago-based statistics service, which reported Friday that scoring in baseball is at a 19-year low for the first month of the season?

According to STATS, major-league games are averaging just 4.31 runs, down from 4.55 in April last year and the lowest since a 4.12 average in April 1992.

STATS suggests colder weather as a factor, and that's reasonable. It has been colder than normal in much of the country. I know for a fact it was cold and windy on Thursday night at Citi Field . . . when the Mets (9) and Astros (1) combined for 10 runs.

CBSSports.com colleague Scott Miller points out that the Padres have contributed (or not contributed) to the lack of scoring. The Padres have just 60 runs in 19 games, and have already been shut out five times (and they face Roy Halladay on Sunday).

Has it been cold in San Diego?

Scott tells me it has been.

Others will no doubt point to steroid testing, and there's little doubt that's a longer-term factor. STATS listed the six lowest-scoring Aprils in the last 20 years, and four of them have been in the last five years (2009 was the exception). None of the six were in the probable peak steroid years, between 1994 and 2006.

It's also possible that there are just more good hitters than good pitchers right now. Scouts talk about how hard it is to find good position players, and several teams with strong pitching (A's, Giants, Padres, Mariners) are offensively-challenged.

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 30, 2011 5:02 pm

3 to watch: The opening day matters edition

On opening day, I want to be everywhere.

On opening day, I want to see every team, every game. Even if the Pirates are playing the Astros (which, thankfully, they're not this week).

Opening day is like no other day. But opening day is still only one game, and opening weekend is still only one weekend, and that means I'm still limited to just 3 to watch.

Just remember, as players, managers and columnists are sure to tell you, that opening day only counts for one win, or one loss.

But also remember that last year's two World Series teams, the Giants and the Rangers, both won on opening day. American League MVP Josh Hamilton was 0-for-3, but Joey Votto began his MVP season by going 3-for-5 with a home run.

Felix Hernandez began his Cy Young season in what would prove to be typical fashion, leaving in the seventh inning with a 3-1 lead that the bullpen didn't hold, and thus ending up with a no-decision. Roy Halladay won, of course, going seven innings and allowing one run.

And even if opening day only counts for one win, remember that had the Giants won just two fewer games last year, they not only don't win the World Series, they don't even make the playoffs. Had they lost on opening day instead of won, they'd have finished in a three-way tie with the Padres and Braves for the NL West and wild card.

With that in mind, here's the first 3 to watch of the year:

1. As I wrote in spring training , I think the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright-less rotation will work out better than anyone expected. I even picked the Cardinals to win the National League Central , although not with total conviction. I'll feel a lot better about that column and also that pick if Chris Carpenter looks like an ace in Padres at Cardinals, Thursday afternoon (4:15 ET) at Busch Stadium . One scout who spends every March in Jupiter said Carpenter looked old this spring, and that he "didn't stand out, the way he usually does." If he doesn't stand out against a Adrian Gonzalez-less Padres lineup, I may want to revise my picks by Thursday night.

2. Question: Which $20 million a year pitcher has never won on opening day? That would be Cliff Lee, who has the excuse of having started just one opening day game in his nine big-league seasons (2009 with the Indians, when he lost 9-1 at Texas). Lee won't start opening day this year, either (Halladay rightly gets the honor), but that only makes Astros at Phillies, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park one of the most anticipated Game 2s ever. But with the Friday forecast for Philadelphia (50 percent chance of rain), Halladay could end up bumping Lee from Saturday to Sunday.

3. The best matchup of the weekend at Yankee Stadium is on opening day, with Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia both beginning the season as Cy Young candidates. But the most telling matchup could be Tigers at Yankees, Sunday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium . The Tigers start Max Scherzer, who they're counting on to be a true No. 2 starter behind Verlander. The Yankees start Phil Hughes, who they need to be a steady starter behind Sabathia, since A.J. Burnett is undependable, Ivan Nova is young and Freddy Garcia is still an unknown. Scherzer was terrible in his final spring start (allowing 11 earned runs to the Orioles). Hughes' velocity was down significantly this spring. Should be fascinating, and it could be important, because there's a chance these two teams could be fighting for a wild-card spot in late September.

Posted on: March 30, 2011 3:13 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2011 4:05 pm

The All-DL opening day All-Stars

It's a team that might contend for a title, if it could only get on the field.

Then again, that's exactly the problem.

Think of the players that will (or likely will) begin the season on the disabled list. It's quite a group, lacking a little (for now) on the left side of the infield and behind the plate, but overflowing with top-level starting pitching and back-of-the-bullpen depth.

Not all the opening day rosters are official yet. Some teams are waiting until closer to Thursday's 11 a.m. deadline for final decisions, which only means that the All-DL-Stars could have an even better lineup by the time the first pitch is thrown.

Jason Bay, for example, should be your All-DL-Star left fielder by then. The Mets are expected to put him on the disabled list, but they haven't said so publicly yet. So I left him off, in part because this team is strong enough without him.

For now, we'll only go with guys we're pretty sure of.

So here goes:

1B -- Kendrys Morales, Angels

2B -- Chase Utley, Phillies

SS -- Clint Barmes, Astros

3B -- Nick Punto, Cardinals

LF -- Cody Ross, Giants (Bay could take his spot)

CF -- Grady Sizemore, Indians (with Franklin Gutierrez also available)

RF -- Corey Hart, Brewers

C -- Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

Rotation -- Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; Zack Greinke, Brewers; Johan Santana, Mets; Mat Latos, Padres; Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays (with Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and others in reserve)

Closer -- Brian Wilson, Giants (with the Phillies' Brad Lidge and the A's Andrew Bailey setting him up)

You'd take that team, wouldn't you?

You'd be guaranteed to lose on opening day, because not one of them could play, but you'd take that team.

Posted on: March 20, 2011 1:43 pm
Edited on: March 20, 2011 2:45 pm

Andrew Miller: Still a prospect at 25?

FORT MYERS, Fla. –- When he was 21, Andrew Miller was already in the big leagues.

Heck, at 21, Andrew Miller was nearly pitching in a World Series.

Four and a half years later, he still hasn’t made it through a full big-league season. As colleague Scott Miller wrote the other day about Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin, Miller is “trapped between Potential and Baseball Nomad.”

Maybin and Miller are forever linked, as the two key players the Tigers traded to Florida for Miguel Cabrera, and also as two big-time prospects who never made it big with the Marlins.

And just as Maybin may have found a welcoming team this spring with the Padres, Miller may have landed at the right place at the right time with the Red Sox.

Scouts following Boston have been impressed with Miller all spring, to the point where some of them believe that he would be the team’s best option as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen. The Sox haven’t made that decision yet, but as of now, Miller remains in big-league camp competing for a job.

“He’s really exciting,” manager Terry Francona said Sunday. “We’re his third team, and sometimes guys just seem to get it. He certainly has a special arm.”

That arm has allowed Miller to throw in the mid-90s, and when you put it together with Miller’s size (he’s 6-7), it always excites scouts. But inconsistent mechanics and command have kept Miller from having big-time success.

Sure enough, when Francona brought Miller into Sunday's spring game against the Cardinals to face the left-handed hitting Colby Rasmus, Miller walked him on five pitches. Later in the inning, he issued a bases-loaded walk, and couldn't finish the inning.

In 79 big-league appearances (54 of them starts), he has a 5.84 ERA and more than five walks for every nine innings pitched.

Before Sunday, Miller had two walks in 7 2/3 innings this spring. The Red Sox are still trying to decide whether he can show enough command to be trusted in the bullpen, and Sunday's outing certainly won't help.

“I don’t think I’ve reached my potential in the big leagues,” Miller said. “If my path takes me to the bullpen, that’s fine. I’m not stupid. I can look at the roster.”

In other words, while Boston’s rotation is set, the bullpen isn’t.

While Miller and Maybin have had similar careers, there are differences. While Maybin expressed some disappointment in the Marlins’ lack of patience, Miller had no such complaints.

“They gave me a bunch of opportunities,” he said. “I was definitely in a different situation than Cameron. Cameron spent more time in Triple-A. They gave me plenty of opportunities.”

Miller believes he’ll fulfill the potential that so many have seen in him. He thinks Maybin will, too.

“I still stand by what I’ve said, that I think one day he’s going to be pretty special,” Miller said. “Maybe [moving on from the Marlins] was a good thing for both of us.”

Posted on: January 12, 2011 3:01 pm

Hoffman: 'It's a compliment to be called closer'

The day Trevor Hoffman retired, another team spent money on a reliever.

A middle reliever.

The Rays guaranteed Kyle Farnsworth $3.25 million, a lot of money for an up-and-down 34-year-old who has pretty much proven he can't close (no saves since 2008), but not out of line with where the relief market has been all winter.

It's been funny. Teams are spending big -- by my count, 13 relievers have already received multiyear contracts -- but most all of the money has gone to guys who either haven't been closers, weren't signed as closers or were signed as possible closers.

Meanwhile, Rafael Soriano, who led the American League with 43 saves, has yet to find a contract to his liking. By some accounts, he could end up signing with the Yankees -- as a big-money setup man.

And the Rangers are planning to take their 40-save closer, Neftali Feliz, and audition him as a starter in spring training.

What in the name of 601 saves is going on here?

Obviously, a lot of teams don't agree with the all-time saves leader, who (not surprisingly) strongly believes in the value of a top closer.

"It's a tremendous compliment to be called a closer," Hoffman said on a conference call.

Hoffman also said that Lee Smith once told him, "There's never been an easy save."

I'm not sure I agree with that, but I do agree that a top closer has big value. As Hoffman said, "The value is there. Ask any manager. . . . You don't realize the impact of a closer until games don't get closed down."

The Padres understood that for a lot of years with Hoffman. The Yankees understand, which is why they were eventually willing to go to two years and $30 million to keep 41-year-old Mariano Rivera happy and employed.

Other teams seem more willing to spend money on the middle guys.

We'll see how that works.
Posted on: January 11, 2011 5:40 pm

Put Trevor in the Hall? On first glance, yes

As Hall of Fame voters, we're still not sure how to handle closers. We're still not sure what saves mean.

We voted in Dennis Eckersley (390 saves, and 197 wins, most of them as a starter) on the first ballot. It took two ballots with Rollie Fingers (341 saves) and nine ballots for Goose Gossage (310 saves).

Meanwhile, Lee Smith retired as the career saves leader with 478, and he can't even break 50 percent. John Franco is fourth on the list with 424 saves, and he didn't even get the 5 percent needed to stay on the ballot for a second year.

What does that mean for Trevor Hoffman and his 601 saves?

I'm guessing he gets in, perhaps even on the first ballot. I'm guessing that I'll vote for him, although I always hate to commit to a vote five years out.

But Hoffman does meet the first test, the "Did you watch him and think he's a Hall of Famer?" test.

We know he'll be on the ballot in five years, now that the 43-year-old Hoffman has told mlb.com that he's definitely decided to retire. We know that Hoffman will still be high on the list by the time his name comes up, because the only active closer with a chance to pass him by then is 41-year-old Mariano Rivera, who will begin 2011 with 559 saves (and with a new two-year contract).

We don't know what people will think of saves by then. We don't know what they'll think of closers by then.

We do know that Hoffman has outstanding credentials. His career ERA is 2.87 (even with the 5.89 in his final year with the Brewers). He's a seven-time All-Star. He even had one year (1998) where he finished second in Cy Young voting, which isn't easy for a reliever.

He was consistent. Year after year, he was considered one of the best closers in the National League, one of the best in baseball.

He's not Rivera, who is a no-doubt first-ballot pick.

But he is worthy of consideration, and on first glance, I'm thinking he gets in -- with my vote.

Category: MLB
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